Middle and high school level sports programs exist outside academic disciplines, yet they often teach lessons that are just as valuable as those learned in classrooms. The mission statements of many schools fully support that concept, and the statement of Beachwood High School (in Ohio) does a particularly good job of capturing the essence of school sports.
It states, “The Beachwood Athletic Department considers athletics an integral part of education and believes that participation in sports develops and instills the qualities of pride, unity and victory; while developing the student athlete to live their life with strong social conscience. It is our goal to give our student athletes the tools and skills to achieve this mission. Being a part of a team not only promotes a healthy lifestyle but provides multiple opportunities for skill enhancement, competition, collaboration, and cooperation. We also believe that physical fitness, discipline and success can help promote academic success, and we expect that our athletes take pride in their performance in the classroom as well as on the field. While we strive to build competitive, winning teams, our primary mission is to promote the value of school spirit and fair play.”
To accommodate students of varying skill levels, schools offer a selection of programs. Student athletes with extensive experience and advanced skills typically become members of varsity teams; less skilled athletes join junior varsity teams. In providing competitive playing opportunities for athletes who aren’t ready for varsity competition, junior varsity play serves as a training ground; experience gained through competition, collaboration and cooperation leads to the enhanced skills that junior varsity players need to enable them to play at the varsity level. At least that’s the theory.
It is truly unfortunate that on many a playing field, theory sometimes is a junior varsity underdog playing against reality’s varsity team. In their quest for victory, the athletic departments in some schools consign their JV players to the bench, and send varsity players to the field. Consequently, a number of JV players see relatively little playing time and only get in on the action when their team has safely outscored its opponent.
In Gwinnett County, the benching of JV players in favor of their varsity counterparts isn’t typical at most schools. However, it occurs with enough frequency to be of concern, and surprisingly, school administrators either don’t know, or don’t care.
During a junior varsity game, fielding varsity players while a majority of JV team members spend most of their playing time as spectators is problematic on a number of levels. In addition to angering parents and disappointing student athletes (sometimes to the point of tears) restricting JV player participation to bench-warming is an assault on self-esteem. Athletes who are rarely allowed to play can’t help but feel they are in fact not good enough to truly deserve a place on the team. Members of the opposing team, having played their hearts out only to see a loss with a lop-sided score, leave the game doubting their capabilities and skills. (In most instances, they weren’t aware that for all intents and purposes, they had been playing a varsity team.)
Coaches and athletic directors who allow, or turn a blind eye to varsity theft of JV player positions certainly aren’t pursuing the mission of a sports program; spending most or all of a game on the bench does not contribute to, “developing the student athlete to live their life with strong social conscience”. In fact, they’re doing the exact opposite. JV athletes whose field time has been co-opted by varsity players are aware of the hoax from the outset. And ultimately members of other teams, as well as their parents and coaches, also realize they’ve been had.
If the situation is to change, the parents and coaches involved with junior varsity teams that field legitimate JV players will have to speak up. Parents of athletes who spend most of their time on the bench are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. If they make waves, experience has shown that their child will see even less playing time, or may be eliminated from the team. If they remain silent, their child will continue to see minimal playing time.
Apparently, some athletic departments have a mission of their own and it’s not promoting “the value of school spirit and fair play”.
Dave Emanuel is Vice President of Random Technologies, a manufacturing company in Loganville, and a Snellville City Councilman. To read more from Dave Emanuel visit http://www.cuttothe-chase.net
(Published April 2017, Gwinnett Citizen)